Monday, November 3, 2008

A panel of experts from The Times has ranked every one of the US presidents - here are the men in the mediocre middle

he Times US presidential rankings - numbers 32 to 22

A panel of experts from The Times has ranked every one of the US presidents - here are the men in the mediocre middle

42-33: the ten worst presidents
21-11: the nearly-greats
10-1: the greatest presidents
The panel and how it works

With Nixon and Bush Jr. out of the running nice and early, we can continue our comprehensive countdown to the greatest ever Commander-in-Chief in The Times US presidential rankings.

Eight of our US and foreign policy experts have considered, compared, debated and finally ranked all 42 presidents in order of greatness to give us a complete list of the best and worst.

Yesterday we published the ten worst and today it is time for numbers 32 to 22:

32. Jimmy Carter

1977-81 (Democratic)

Many of the comment posters on yesterday's worst ten presidents could not believe Carter missed the roll of shame. Well our panel only just left him out - making him their 11th worst President.

The Carter administration was dominated by a series of foreign policy disappointments including the surrender of the Panama Canal, the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

In Washington, Carter instituted major civil service reform and restructured the health and education departments but he failed to excite the voting population and, with the economy struggling, he was comfortably voted out of office after a single term.

"Carter got just about everything wrong." Chris Ayres, Los Angeles correspondent

31. John Tyler

1841-45 (Whig)

Tyler assumed the presidency after a brief constitutional crisis following the sudden death of William Harrison. He had been the Vice President and from this moment, all VPs were a heartbeat away from the White House.

He struggled to assert his authority and his presidency was often referred to as "his accidency". He managed to survive the first ever attempt to impeach a President after an unpopular veto and went on to annex Texas and then bring Florida into the Union.

29= William H. Taft

1909-13 (Republican)

Taft's Presidency was overshadowed by the imposing figure of Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy had anointed his friend as his successor before changing his mind after Taft's first term and making an acrimonious but failed challenge to his Republican nomination.

The President sits low on our list after managing to alienate all sides of the political spectrum with unpopular anti-trust and tariff legislation during his term in office. His bid for re-election was the least successful ever as he secured just eight electoral votes and finished third behind Woodrow Wilson and Roosevelt, who was standing for the Progressive Party.

29= Benjamin Harrison

1889-93 (Republican)

Harrison implemented an unpopular, high tariff on goods imported into the US, raising prices while the American economy was suffering. At the same time, the President was signing substantial appropriation bills to increase spending on the navy, subsidised shipping and federal improvements. For the first time outside of war, Congress was allowed to spend a billion dollars, which was not welcomed by the impoverished electorate.

28. Zachary Taylor

1849-50 (Whig)

Taylor is another man to languish in the rankings due, at least in part, to a brief presidency.

A military man with no prior experience in public office, Taylor died after 16 months in the White House. Much of that short period in power was spent debating the future of slavery in the newly expanded United States. He was a Southern slave-owner but argued that slavery should not be allowed to spread.

27. Rutherford B. Hayes

1877-81 (Republican)

Hayes' election was the most controversial of all. He comfortably lost the popular vote but after months of bitter wrangling, he secured the electoral college by a single vote.

Once he had been sworn in during a secret ceremony, he finally brought an end to the period of post-civil war Reconstruction by abruptly withdrawing federal troops from the southern states and allowing the former Confederate states to rule themselves.

26. Calvin Coolidge

1923-29 (Republican)

Coolidge was seen as a caretaker when he stepped up from Vice President after Warren Harding's death, but his laissez-faire economic policies were popular as the economy boomed.

He was re-elected with 54 per cent of the popular vote but support faltered as he refused to intervene on behalf of struggling farmers and was slow to react to the Great Mississippi Flood. In foreign affairs, he passed the largely ineffectual Kellogg-Briand Pact, which called for signatories to renounce war.

"Probably the most modest man ever to hold the office. Disliked for his small-minded isolationist tendencies but on balance, it's a shame there were not more like him." Camilla Cavendish, columnist.

25. Gerald Ford

1974-77 (Republican)

Ford became President after Nixon's post-Watergate resignation and his best-known executive act was to grant his predecessor a full pardon.

His period in office coincided with a US recession and inflation rates of up to seven per cent, which left him with a large budgetary deficit and little room for manoeuvre. He vetoed 39 appropriation bills passed by Congress in his first 14 months to try and keep the economy afloat but that was not enough to impress our judges.

24. Andrew Johnson

1865-69 (Democratic, National Union)

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, Johnson refused to implement the harsh recriminations against the defeated Confederate states that would have been popular with many Unionists. As a southerner and a Democrat, standing under the umbrella National Union ticket, he was particularly susceptible to criticism from the victorious northern states.

His gentle approach to southern leaders and veto of civil rights legislation lost him the support of the Republican Party in Congress and he spent much of his presidency battling two attempts to impeach him.

"Nearly blew Lincoln's success." Gerard Baker, US editor.

23. Bill Clinton

1993-2001 (Democratic)

Clinton was one of the most controversial figures in our list with some of the panel rating him highly while others buried him at the foot of their rankings.

Clinton was the first Democrat to be re-elected President since Franklin Roosevelt. He successfully passed progressive legislation, including the right to take unpaid leave during pregnancy or illness and an increase in the minimum wage but he failed with other proposals such as his medical reforms.

His second term was dominated by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and attempted impeachment but he still left office with a 65 per cent approval rating.

"Promised so much, delivered so little and embarrassed everyone." Ben Macintyre, writer-at-large.

22. Chester Arthur

1881-85 (Republican)

A non-partisan President who attempted to improve the image of Washington officials by introducing an independent civil service commission, restricting political influence over official appointments and reducing tariff rates.

The Republicans repaid his lack of party loyalty by refusing to nominate him to run for a second term as President.

"His four years in office saw him turn widespread cynicism into grudging respect - the opposite of the usual Presidential experience." Camilla Cavendish.

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